The RaboPlus 2010 NZ MTB Cup continues this weekend in Nelson. The six event national series in MTB Cross Country and Downhill disciplines takes competitors all over NZ in January and February, culminating in the RaboPlus MTB National Championships at the end of February in Wellington.
Nelson continues its strong and enduring pedigree of hosting National level MTB events with the 2010 NZ MTB Cup, which is also the South Island Cup final this weekend. The Brook and Maitai Valley race courses are tried and tested, having previously being used for National and Oceania Championship contests over recent years and provide competitors with a wonderful medium to showcase their talent.
The Cross Country Elite race on Saturday has has two in-form athletes going for three-peats at this final of the South Island Cup. Brendon Sharratt (Wellington) and Amy Laird (Christchurch) have won their respective races at the first two NZ Cup rounds but may face some stiffer competiton this weekend. Sharratt will race current NZ Champion Stu Houltham (Lower Hutt) in his first national outing this summer, as well as two U23 Elites with the potential to push hard at the front of the field - Carl Jones (Whakatane) and Alex McGregor (Dunedin). McGregor has recently returned to mountainbike racing after several years racing on the road, but had some mechanical issues in his Dunedin race start preventing him from challenging.
Laird continues to impress in the Women's Elite Cross Country field, having switched disciplines from Downhill to Cross Country last year. U23 National Champion Katherine O'Neill (Auckland) joins the NZ Cup this weekend to bolster the Womens Elite/U23 race, and will have been following Laird's impressive wins with interest.
Sunday's Downhill race continues what has been a high energy and exciting start to the NZ MTB Cup at previous rounds in Christchurch and Dunedin. The Elite Mens field is one of the strongest seen this early in the season, with Trek World Racing professional Justin Leov (Dunedin) having the measure on his rivals, but only just! Several pretenders have been only fractions of a second from upsetting the form card and besting Leov - in this sport only the slightest mistake or missed line can be the difference between the top step of the podium and finishing back in the field. X-Fusion athlete and Nelson local (on his preferred home track) Kieran Bennett knows this only too well, and Bennett will fall back on his 2007 Oceania Championship winning form on this same track to draw inspiration for Sunday's race run. Seasoned Pro rider Nathan Rankin (Levin) also joins the NZ Cup in Nelson for the first time this year and like other athletes entering the series at this stage, will be very aware of the form and pace he is up against.
2009 World Cup Champion Sabrina Jonnier will race her last NZ event in Nelson before returning to France to continue preparations for the 2010 World Cup season. Jonnier has shown a clean set of heels to her Women's Elite rivals, with a demonstration of the power and control required to beat the best in the world at this demanding sport. The Kiwi challenge will be led by Rotorua's Gabby Molloy, herself no slouch and gaining on Jonnier at each outing.
South Island Cup champions in several age group categories will be decided in Nelson, with the Senior Mens Downhill category providing a level of competition that rivals anything else on offer. PC Cooper (Blenheim) has been away from this level of racing for several years, and was one of NZ's most promising Juniors back in 2006/2007. Cooper is back in 2010, and has traded wins at the first two rounds with current NZ representative Richard Leacock (Wellington). It will be a winner takes all race between these two riders on Sunday and neither will give an inch - their contrasting racing styles, Cooper relaxed and loose and Leacock focussed and driven only serving to heighten the suspense.
Cross Country racing at the Codgers MTB Trails, Brook St has age group categories on a 10.30am race start on Saturday morning, with Elite, U19 and U23 categories racing on a 2pm race start.
Downhill practice at Kaka Hill, Sharlands Creek, Maitai Rd runs between 9am and 5pm on Saturday, with seeding and racing taking place on Sunday from 10.30am.
Further information contact:
Chris Mildon, MTBNZ Event Coordinator